K: Three weeks in Beijing and we finally have time and internet—the two necessary components for blog posting! There is so much I want to write, but it would turn into a novel if I talked about everything thus far. Therefore, feel free to email me and ask questions to find out more! My first impressions of Beijing as a city are mixed. The tell-tale signs of overpopulation are everywhere: constant litter, dirty sights and smells, relentless traffic, over-packed buses and subways, etc. But there are also parts of the city that house miniature “central parks” and small, artsy side streets, demonstrating the ongoing theme of diversity in the capital. The food embodies this as well, as we have access to the various provincial foods, but also Tibetan, Mongolian, Korean, Taiwanese, and, when we need ‘an American fix,’ Mexican, American, and Italian. This place is so mind-boggling huge that we have yet to explore our own “Haidian” district, let alone much of Beijing. While generally dirty, Beijing boasts conservation programs (for my environmental studies friends out there,) offering recycling with every trash can and providing super-efficient public transportation for the entire area. Though there are leaks in the system, especially aesthetically, the Chinese have streamlined the city to accommodate so many people. I’m impressed by this every day.
The methodical approach to the city itself contradicts the nature of the Chinese people, at least those I have gotten to know here so far. They are some of the most emotionally direct people I have met, honest with their feelings and genuine in conversation. I had heard of the famous hospitality in China and it is no exaggeration. Each one of my students has invited me to their home, offering to be my guide, and shown interest in my well-being while I live here. They are endlessly curious, complementary, and welcoming, and I am struck by their focus on love, happiness, and relationships. I am learning so much from the Chinese, a community-based culture, and how they seem to contrast against the very individualistic United States. There are definite positives to both attitudes, but I think that a lot of Americans could learn from the Chinese and their commonly less selfish outlooks. On the other hand, it seems like the Chinese are already appropriating some things from America, especially in the media. They love Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga, Michael Jackson, and others, and every time we go shopping, we browse to American music. My class, Class A, is performing Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” and acting out scenes from Titanic (a movie they have never seen,) for the Talent Show this weekend. They are obsessed and let me tell you, if you ever need a mood-booster, listening to 30 tone-deaf Asians serenade you with Celine is by far the quickest way to brighten your day. Haha.
I love teaching so far, even though it can be exhausting and frustrating. My class is a “low” one, meaning my students knew very little English coming in, and, in a “Total Immersion Program,” that can obviously be problematic. Despite their limited knowledge, however, they are enthusiastic and positive, and I can already see major improvements in their confidence and skills in English. Almost all are English teachers in their own provinces across the country, so while teaching them English we also try to pass on more right-brained, creative, and interactive methods of teaching the language. The Chinese educational system is exam-based so, typically, the teachers and students concentrate on grammar and syntax instead of actual practice in the classroom. It’s awesome to be given the opportunity to provide another option for schools across China through the teachers at this program. I actually feel like we are making a difference, not only in the lives of our students, but in the larger structure of education in the country. Wow, this blog post is turning out to be super long… I guess I will wrap it up and post more specific stories and stuff in the future. Long story short, I am loving Beijing so far and can’t wait to experience new locales and people soon! Working on uploading pics, we may have to trek to an internet café for better connectivity… More on the way!